Arditi was the name adopted by Italian Army
Italian Army
The Italian Army is the ground defence force of the Italian Armed Forces. It is all-volunteer force of active-duty personnel, numbering 108,355 in 2010. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft...

 elite storm troops of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The name derives from the Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 verb Ardire ("to dare") and translates as "The Daring Ones".

Reparti d'assalto (Assault Units) were formed in the summer of 1917 by Colonel Bassi, and were assigned the tactical role of shock troops
Shock troops
Shock troops or assault troops are formations created to lead an attack. "Shock troop" is a loose translation of the German word Stoßtrupp...

, breaching enemy defenses in order to prepare the way for a broad infantry advance. The Arditi were not units within infantry divisions, but were considered a separate combat arm.

The Reparti d'assalto were successful in bringing in a degree of movement to what had previously been a war of entrenched positions. Their exploits on the battlefield were exemplary and they gained an illustrious place in Italian military history. They were demobilized by 1920.

The name Arditi was also used by the supporters (often war veterans) of Gabriele D'Annunzio
Gabriele D'Annunzio
Gabriele D'Annunzio or d'Annunzio was an Italian poet, journalist, novelist, and dramatist...

, during his occupation of Fiume in 1919-20. Their use of a uniform with black shirts and black fez
Fez (clothing)
The fez , or tarboosh is a felt hat either in the shape of a red truncated cone or in the shape of a short cylinder made of kilim fabric. Both usually have tassels...

 was taken up by Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

's paramilitary forces, called, in fact, Blackshirts
The Blackshirts were Fascist paramilitary groups in Italy during the period immediately following World War I and until the end of World War II...


From 1 October 1975 the flag of X Arditi Regiment (formed in 1942 in imitation of the IX Assault unit of the First World War) was adopted by the 9º Reggimento d'Assalto Paracadutisti Col Moschin
9th Parachute Assault Regiment
The 9º Reggimento d'Assalto Paracadutisti ' is the or proudest Special Forces unit of the current Italian Army — in part due to its distinguished history, but also due to the arduous training which members must undertake...

 (9th Parachute Assault Regiment Col Moschin). To this day operatives of Col Moschin and COMSUBIN (COMmando SUBacquei INcursori) Italian special forces are known as "Arditi Incursori" and are viewed as the heirs of the Arditi of World War I. Col Moschin is actually the name of a hill where the Arditi obtained a hard fought victory against Austrian troops during World War I.

The name is sometimes misapplied as a general term for Italian special units such as Bersaglieri
The Bersaglieri are a corps of the Italian Army originally created by General Alessandro La Marmora on 18 June 1836 to serve in the Piedmontese Army, later to become the Royal Italian Army...


Early Experiments

The ardito concept can be traced back to 1914 when every regiment of the Royal Army was ordered to create a group of explorers trained to act behind enemy lines. The first Arditi units were formed and trained in Sdricca di Manzano, Udine
Udine is a city and comune in northeastern Italy, in the middle of Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, between the Adriatic sea and the Alps , less than 40 km from the Slovenian border. Its population was 99,439 in 2009, and that of its urban area was 175,000.- History :Udine is the historical...

, where the event is still celebrated to this day on the last Sunday in July.

Others argue that the so-called "Companies of death", special patrols of infantry and engineers engaged in cutting or blasting enemy barbed wire, should be considered as precursors of the Arditi. They were easily recognizable by their use of armor and "Farina" helmets. The use of explosives in that role resulted in entirely unnecessary sacrifices of the members of these units.

The task of Arditi units was not to clear the way for regular infantry to attack enemy lines, but to completely overrun enemy positions. The most daring volunteers were chosen, particularly those who were not bothered by loud incoming artillery fire close by. The men also studied fencing and were masters of hand-to-hand combat. Once ready, they were sent to the front armed with a dagger and hand grenades. Most didn't carry rifles or carbines because they would be cumbersome to fire in the confined spaces of a trench. The Arditi approached enemy trenches while they were being shelled by Italian artillery. Just as the barrage was lifted they would jump inside the trench while the enemy was huddling down, and use their daggers at close quarters to suppress enemy resistance. These primitive tactics were surprisingly effective. Arditi had to hold the positions they conquered for 24 hours and then would be replaced by the regular infantry. Arditi might lose 25% to 30% of their numbers during such an attack. Their motto was "O la vittoria, o tutti accoppati" meaning "We either win, or we all die". The typical unit had 13 officers and 400 soldiers selected on a voluntary basis. One such unit was completely wiped out while attacking Monte Osvaldo in April 1916.

In 1916 the supreme command decided to award special status to Arditi units but was reluctant to create new units. The Arditi badge, to be carried on the left arm, included the monogram VE (for King Vittorio Emanuele), and was designed exclusively as a symbol of distinction for these soldiers. This was the first official use of the word "Ardito" by the Italian army.

Establishment and use

In 1917 as a result of proposals put forward by young officers who were tired of the gruesome bloodshed of trench life, assault units were formed within the 48th Division of the VIII Army Corps, commanded by Captain Giuseppe Bassi. As early as March 1917 the Italian Supreme Command had sent a circular giving information about the constitution of Austro-Hungarian special units.

Following a positive evaluation it was decided to establish the new special units, but disagreements on equipment and training delayed the start of operations until July 29, 1917, when King Vittorio Emanuele officially sanctioned the creation of Arditi units.

The new assault units were formed and then developed independently with training different from that of ordinary soldiers. The better trained German army was the first to adopt the concept of shock assault troops with the Stormtroopers, but the Italians followed their example. A training school was established, as noted above, at Sdricca di Manzano, Udine. The first units were created in the 2nd Army, and by the time of Caporetto
Battle of Caporetto
The Battle of Caporetto , took place from 24 October to 19 November 1917, near the town of Kobarid , on the Austro-Italian front of World War I...

 there were 27 units, although only a few actually saw combat. In all, approximately 18,000 men made up the Arditi units. Many of these men saw combat on the river Piave
Battle of the Piave River
The Battle of the Piave River , known in Italy as Battaglia del Solstizio , Battaglia di Mezzo Giugno , or Seconda Battaglia del Piave , was a decisive victory for the Italian Army during World War...

, where the advance of Austro-Hungarian troops was halted. Arditi used to swim across the Piave, clenching a dagger between their teeth and assault the Austrian and German positions on the other bank of the river Piave. These men came to be known as Caimani del Piave (the Caimans of the Piave). Because Austrian uniforms had a stiff collar, the "Caimani" preferred to use a resolza knife, typical of Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

Pattada is a comune in the Province of Sassari in the Italian region Sardinia, located about 150 km north of Cagliari and about 50 km southeast of Sassari. As of 31 December 2010, it had a population of 3,283 and an area of 164.9 km².It's famous for the production of Sardinian...

), as this blade could easily penetrate the collar of the enemy uniform (other arditi formations used a simple dagger). Today, the badge worn by CONSUBIN commandoes shows a caiman clenching a dagger in its jaws. This is an emblem chosen to honor the memory of the Caimani del Piave.

In June 1918 an entire Division of assault troops with nine units was placed under the command of Major General Ottavio Zoppi, and then was expanded to became an Army Corps with twelve units in two divisions. By the end of the war there were 25 assault units, mostly classified as Bersaglieri.

The Arditi contributed in a major way to the breakthrough on the Piave
Battle of Vittorio Veneto
The Battle of Vittorio Veneto was fought between 24 October and 3 November 1918, near Vittorio Veneto, during the Italian Campaign of World War I...

 that in November 1918 made possible the final victory on Austrian armies.

Shortly after the end of the war, in January 1920, all units were disbanded.


Initially the soldiers were volunteers, but later on unit commanders designated suitable soldiers for transfer to Arditi units. Arditi were usually drawn from Bersaglieri
The Bersaglieri are a corps of the Italian Army originally created by General Alessandro La Marmora on 18 June 1836 to serve in the Piedmontese Army, later to become the Royal Italian Army...

 or Alpini
The Alpini, , are the elite mountain warfare soldiers of the Italian Army. They are currently organized in two operational brigades, which are subordinated to the Alpini Corps Command. The singular is Alpino ....

 (two Italian military specialties whose soldiers were renowned for their stamina and physical prowess). After undergoing tests of strength, skill and nerve, the recruits were trained in the use of weapons and innovative tactics of attack. They also received hand-to-hand fighting instruction with or without weapons (according to the "Flower of Battle" techniques developed in the Middle Ages), all supported by continuous physical training.

In particular, Arditi were trained with hand granades, marksmanship and the use of the flamethrower and machine gun. Training was very realistic, and several men were killed during basic training (particularly hit by splinters from a hand grenade, because their operating procedure provided for a direct assault immediately after throwing a grenade. For this reason, as reported in the book "Gli Arditi" by Reginaldo Giuliani, during training 3,4 or 5 Arditi were lined up facing a large stone and after a hand granade was thrown at the stone officers would carefully look for any Ardito moving to avoid the splinters. Such training was clearly a source of injury but added to the fame of the units and to the almost suicidal morale of their combat attitude. As a side note it is interesting to point out the figure of Reginaldo Giuliani who was a catholic priest and an Ardito and who wrote several books on his experiences including "Croce e Spada" - "Cross and Sword"). The rigorous training, team spirit and contempt of danger, but also the privileges they enjoyed, made the Arditi an elite corps, but also created a climate of distrust and jealousy with officers belonging to other units of the regular army. Their military skill, however, earned them respect for the ability to resolve on the battlefield situations tactically impossible for regular army units.


The uniform of the Arditi drawn from regular infantry units consisted of a Bersagliere cyclist coat with black flames as a lapel patch. Arditi drawn from Alpini units would instead wear green flames on their lapel patch, and Arditi drawn from Bersaglieri units would wear crimson flames. They would also wear a dark green sweater and a black fez (a hat) identical to that of the Bersaglieri infantry (although Bersaglieri wore a crimson fez, rather than a black one) and trousers. From these uniforms and other insigna, indicative of the army unit of origin, was born a distinction between the Red Flames (Bersaglieri Arditi), Black Flames (Arditi Infantry) and Green Flames (Arditi Alpini). The Red Flames were sometimes called Crimson Flames.

Many of the Arditi badges and symbols were later adopted by the fascist regime, for example a badge depicting a skull with a dagger clenched between the teeth. The anti-fascist Arditi del Popolo
Arditi del Popolo
The Arditi del Popolo was an Italian militant anti-fascist group founded at the end of June 1921 to resist the rise of Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party and the violence of the Blackshirts paramilitaries...

 also had their own badge (skull with red eyes and dagger). Their battle cry was A Noi! which could be translated as "This is between us!" and can be interpreted as a challenge to the enemy to start a close up and personal lethal duel decided by dagger blows. This is presumably how renaissance Italian gentlemen challenged each other when starting a rapier duel.


Typical equipment of the Arditi was the dagger for hand-to-hand combat, and hand grenades. The grenades were used to create panic and confusion as well as for their disruptive effect. The Thevenot hand grenade frequently used by the Arditi was well suited for assaults, not being overly powerful, but very noisy so as to provoke fear in the opponents. Other weapons included machine guns and flame throwers. The Arditi also used 37mm
37mm gun
37mm gun or 3.7 cm gun can refer to several weapons or weapons systems.*The 37mm version of the Maxim gun used by both sides during World War I**QF 1 pounder pom-pom, the British version...

and 65mm cannon against pillboxes and fortification
Fortifications are military constructions and buildings designed for defence in warfare and military bases. Humans have constructed defensive works for many thousands of years, in a variety of increasingly complex designs...


In the Museo del Risorgimento in Turin
Turin is a city and major business and cultural centre in northern Italy, capital of the Piedmont region, located mainly on the left bank of the Po River and surrounded by the Alpine arch. The population of the city proper is 909,193 while the population of the urban area is estimated by Eurostat...

, in the hall dedicated to the resistance against Fascism there are a dagger and a hand grenade belonging to the Arditi del Popolo. Due to lack of resources, the first daggers were manufactured from surplus stock of the bayonets from the vetterli rifle.
Each bayonet was cut in half and fashioned into two daggers.

The Arditi and fascism

In the postwar period many Arditi joined the 'National Association Arditi d'Italia' (ANAI), founded by captain Mario Carli, then involved in the Futurist movement
Futurism was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century.Futurism or futurist may refer to:* Afrofuturism, an African-American and African diaspora subculture* Cubo-Futurism* Ego-Futurism...

. Carli wrote the essay "Arditi are not gendarme
A gendarmerie or gendarmery is a military force charged with police duties among civilian populations. Members of such a force are typically called "gendarmes". The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary describes a gendarme as "a soldier who is employed on police duties" and a "gendarmery, -erie" as...

s" in collaboration with Marinetti.

A large number of Arditi joined the fascist movement, but support was not unanimous, as is clear from the Arditi del Popolo (fringe breakaway movement of the ANAI, politically leaning to the maximalist wing of socialism). In any case, most Arditi who joined the ANAI transferred to the FNAI (National Federation Arditi D'Italia), founded on 23 October 1922 by Mussolini (the ANAI was later dissolved).

The Arditi were active participants in Gabriele D'Annunzio's coup in the city of Fiume (Rijeka
Rijeka is the principal seaport and the third largest city in Croatia . It is located on Kvarner Bay, an inlet of the Adriatic Sea and has a population of 128,735 inhabitants...

), in modern Croatia
Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

. When his original plan for Italian annexation was rebuffed by the government in Rome, D'Annunzio proclaimed the founding of the "Republic of Carnaro". With the trade unionist De Ambris, D'Annunzo promulgated a constitution, the Charter of Carnaro, containing strongly progressive or even radical elements. On December 25, 1920 (the so-called Bloody Christmas) regular army troops led by Italian general Caviglia put an end to the short-lived Republic after brief clashes. This action was carried out under orders from Prime Minister Giolitti, facing international pressure and fearing for the stability of the liberal Italian state if D'Annunzio was allowed to consolidate his control.

The Arditi del Popolo

The Roman section of the Italian Arditi, in contrast to the strong but not yet consolidated movement of fascist squadrismo, became the Arditi del Popolo, a paramilitary group that was clearly anti-fascist. Its members came from anarchist, communist, and socialist movements. The Communists constituted the majority, but there were also components such as Republican Vincenzo Baldazzi (who was one of the leaders), and sometimes, as in the defense of Parma, also militants of the Popular Party, such as the adviser Corazza who was killed in Parma in clashes with fascist forces. The movement was born in the summer of 1921 through the work of Argo Secondari, a former lieutenant of the "Black Flame" infantry and an anarchist. The strength of these paramilitary formations were 20,000 men enrolled, among them war veterans, who were neutral or strongly anti-fascist.

Perhaps the most resonant event was the defense of Parma against fascist squadrismo in 1922: around 10,000 squadristi, first under the command of Roberto Farinacci, then Italo Balbo, had to withdraw from the city after 5 days of clashes against a group consisting of socialists, anarchists and communists, controlled by the heads of the Arditi del Popolo (350 took part in the battle against the fascists) Antonio Cieri and Guido Picelli. The Fascist lost 39 men, the Arditi del Popolo five.

In the following months, many heads of the Arditi del Popolo were jailed or killed by fascist squadristi, sometimes with the collusion
Collusion is an agreement between two or more persons, sometimes illegal and therefore secretive, to limit open competition by deceiving, misleading, or defrauding others of their legal rights, or to obtain an objective forbidden by law typically by defrauding or gaining an unfair advantage...

 of police agencies.

See also

  • Arditi del Popolo
    Arditi del Popolo
    The Arditi del Popolo was an Italian militant anti-fascist group founded at the end of June 1921 to resist the rise of Benito Mussolini's National Fascist Party and the violence of the Blackshirts paramilitaries...

    , an antifascist organization created in 1921 by Argo Secondari
  • The Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale
    The Blackshirts were Fascist paramilitary groups in Italy during the period immediately following World War I and until the end of World War II...

    (National Security Volunteer Militia) of the Italian Fascist movement.

Italian language

  • Balsamini, Luigi, Gli Arditi del Popolo. Dalla guerra alla difesa del popolo contro le violenze fasciste, Casalvelino Scalo, Galzerano, 2002.
  • Cordova, Ferdinando, Arditi e legionari dannunziani, Padova, Marsilio, 1969.
  • Francescangeli, Eros, Arditi del Popolo. Argo Secondari e la prima organizzazione antifascista (1917–1922), Roma, Odradek, 2000.
  • Fuschini, Ivan, Gli Arditi del Popolo, prefazione di Arrigo Boldrini, Ravenna, Longo, 1994.
  • Rossi, Marco, Arditi, non gendarmi! Dall’arditismo di guerra agli arditi del popolo 1917-1922, Pisa, BFS, 1997.

External links

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